Steel Angel Kurumi-Volume 1 (1999)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Conversations with Angels
Notes-Historical Background: The Taisho Era in Japan
Notes-The Onmyou Tradition
Credits-Clean opening animation
Trailer-Extended episode trailers (6)
DVD-ROM Extras-Kurumi fortune-teller PDF
Trailer-ADV Previews (6)
|Year Of Production||1999|
|Running Time||86:24 (Case: 90)|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Naohito Takahashi|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
English Song Lyrics
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes, next episode teaser after closing credits|
Are you sick and tired of long movies that take forever to get to the point? Do you want something that comes in bite-sized pieces that you can watch quickly and move on? Have I got a show for you! (OK, enough with the spiel).
Steel Angel Kurumi is an interesting show, and it comes in what the cover calls "mini-episodes". What this means is that each episode, including the opening and closing credits, lasts 14:24 plus or minus a second. Bite-sized indeed. They manage to fit quite a bit of story into an episode, too.
This is not a show intended for children (that M rating is not just decoration) — there's some nudity, some fan service, quite a bit of violence, and some adult themes — but it uses many of the techniques of more childish shows. The regular footage is fairly normal in appearance (for anime — gotta allow for hair in strange colours, very large eyes, and small mouths), but moments of heightened emotion are depicted in super-deformed animation (all the characters turn into miniatures with large heads, rather like the Mini-Goddesses in the Oh, My Goddess series). Extreme personal violence, on the other hand, goes into still shots with heavy action lines. It may sound a little odd, but it feels just right. So does the occasional use of split screens.
This being the first volume, we don't get to meet all the characters (they are introduced gradually). The ones we get to meet in the first episode are:
In later episodes we get to meet Nakahito's elder brother Kamihito and Saki, another Steel Angel. There are other characters waiting for introductions, but we'll get to them as they appear.
When you start this disc, there's a lengthy Onmyou prayer (several pages, read out by Claudia Black) — it's interesting, but makes for a lengthy start-up for the disc.
Every episode starts with an admonition not to sit too close to the TV, and to have the room brightly lit — apparently this is in reaction to a problem a few years back in Japan where an anime show caused several epileptic fits — I've not noticed this on other shows, but apparently it's quite common on anime screened on Japanese TV — I guess that's because they usually trim it off, but on this show these warnings are actually rather humorous, so they've been left in. After the warning, we get a short teaser for the episode, then the opening credits, the episode, the closing credits, and then the trailer for the next episode. Very consistent.
The episodes on this disc are:
|1||Kurumi Stands on Solid Ground||Nakahito accidentally activates Kurumi, which makes him her master|
|2||Only One Master for Me!||Dr Amagi threatens Nakahito with the Steel Soldier Kongo — big mistake!|
|3||New Angel Saki||Dr Amagi has recovered the second Steel Angel prototype, but she can't activate it, can she?|
|4||Don't Hate Me!||Kurumi is the target of an assassination attempt orchestrated by Dr Amagi|
|5||I Have a Kid Sister Now||Kurumi is delighted not to be alone, and asks Nakahito to activate Saki|
|6||Sisterly Love||The Steel Angels rebuild the temple, but the group decides they need to take action|
Note that the titles I've given above are the ones shown on the screen, rather than the ones said by the English dub — yup, the dub gives them other names, generally intended to be funny, I think. For example, episode 3 is called Cold Saki; I think the one I like least is episode 2, that is called A One-Master Kinda Gal. These titles are printed on the inside of the cover, hence the discrepancy with what I have above.
Kurumi, despite being artificial, is far from the emotionless robot you might expect. She's an emotional dynamo, a fount of optimism and confidence, and her boundless enthusiasm sweeps everything along. Think of Sailor Moon on happy pills — yes, that far over the top. She makes Excel Excel look sober and restrained. And such happiness is contagious — you can start watching an episode feeling a bit down, and find yourself cheering up just by watching her. She's fairly innocent of the ways of the world, but that's just another part of her charm.
Nakahito is fairly innocent, too. He's being trained in the ways of Onmyou mysticism, but he hasn't made it very far yet. He's a boy, and a well-meaning one at that. He's dragged against his will to the mansion in the first episode by three boys who are labelled bullies by the English credits, but mean brats by the Japanese. He is forced into the mansion by them, and that's how he stumbles (literally) across Kurumi, and activates her (that scene is a little corny, but funny, and I'm not going to spoil it for you). He's also a bit shy, and finds himself embarrassed by how strongly Kurumi throws herself at him. While he is similar to a lot of anime lead males (think Love Hina, even Tenchi), he's less frustrating than some.
This series is set between the two World Wars, in the Taisho Era in Japan. There are lots of soldiers in uniforms that first made me think it was set during World War II (Japanese troops with those bandage-like gaiters). There are plenty of people wearing traditional Japanese attire, but there are plenty around in uniform, too. I don't recall hearing about machines like the Steel Soldier Kongos, so I suspect this might be an alternate reality.
The show opens with Dr Ayanokoji believing he has completed the Mark II heart of the Steel Angel. Dr Amagi leads a military team to break in and take possession of his work. Dr Amagi is only the tip of the military machine that is interested in the Steel Angels. We do get to see why — they are extraordinarily powerful, agile, and fast.
You might think this show sexist, particularly given the maid outfits the Steel Angels wear, were it not for the other female roles — Dr Amagi is no-one's servant, and the female spies Kichijoji and Koganei seem empowered, too.
The credits mention that the animation was produced by Oriental Light and Magic, while the English dub was recorded at Industrial Smoke and Mirrors. I wonder if Industrial Light and Magic are annoyed by these?
This volume barely finishes setting up the start of the story, but I'm already hooked. It's interesting, beautifully drawn, and the characters have depth. I'm glad that they released two volumes this month — stay tuned for my review of the next one...
This DVD transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced. That's how this show appeared on television.
The image is beautifully sharp and clear, and better-rendered than almost any other anime. There is no film grain, and no low-level noise.
Colour is superb. Lots of bright vivid colours, but lots of beautifully managed less intense colours, too — the scenes in the basement in the first episode (where the light levels are low) are perfect. The super-deformed segments are all bright colours, as they should be, while the action stills are in subdued hues, with lots of black lines. There are no colour-related artefacts.
There are no film artefacts. There is amazingly little aliasing (there is occasional very minor aliasing, so I can't say there's none, even though that's how it feels); there's also a tiny bit of dot crawl on the Japanese Kurumi logo. There's no moire, and no MPEG artefacts.
Only two sets of English subtitles — the first are normal full English subtitles, the second are song subtitles. I watched mostly the full English subtitles, and they are well-timed, seem accurate, and are easy to read — they are in the traditional yellow with black outlining. The opening and closing themes are subtitled in English on odd-numbered episodes, and in Romaji (Japanese rendered in Roman characters) on even-numbered episodes.
The disc is single-sided (nice picture label), dual layered. The layer change is placed between episodes 4 and 5, which might seem a little odd, but there are plenty of extras to accommodate.
Note: the first R4 release of this disc has an unusual glitch which means that it will freeze at the start of the third episode on certain DVD players. This is due to a split-second video insert that was made to sync the audio. Madman are aware of the problem and are re-mastering the disc — they will exchange it for anyone experiencing the lock-up. In the meantime, it is possible to bypass the glitch by "searching" to a time past the problem (3 seconds is plenty); because every episode begins with the "don't sit too close to the TV" warning, you won't miss any part of the episode.
The soundtrack is provided in English and Japanese, both in Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround-encoded, at 224 kbps. I watched all the episodes with English sound and most of them again with Japanese soundtracks.
The English dialogue is clear and very well matched to the animation, which isn't too surprising — they have recruited some of the most experienced (and popular) voice actors for this series (more on that later). The Japanese dialogue sounds clear, but I really can't assess comprehensibility.
The score is decent stuff, but only the opening and closing themes stand out. The words to both are provided by the author of the screenplay, Naruhisa Arakawa, while the music is by Toshihiko Sahashi, who is responsible for the score, too. The themes are sung by The Steel Angels: Atsuko Enomuto, Rie Tanaka, and Masayo Kurata, names we'll be seeing elsewhere in the credits...
These are pure 2.0 stereo soundtracks, with good stereo imaging, but no use of the surrounds or subwoofer.
|Surround Channel Use|
This disc has more extras than any other anime series I've seen.
The menus are animated with music. The menus are easy to navigate, and quite attractive, with neat transitions.
This is a lengthy documentary, featuring interviews with five of the voice actors and the director of the English dub. The voice actors all happen to be female. We hear from:
These are names we recognise. Sure, Claudia Black is known from Farscape, but she's been keen to voice anime for a while now. All the other voice actors are known for their anime work. Hilary Haag was the irrepressible Nene in Bubble Gum Crisis 2040 AD; Monica Rial was in both Gasaraki and Martian Successor Nadesico; Kira Vincent-Davis has mostly done minor voice roles, but she's been Koharu Hotta in Princess Nine and she was Roppenmatsu 2 in Excel Saga; and Kelli Cousins from Princess Nine (she plays the first Roppenmatsu in Excel Saga, too). It's amusing that they refuse to tell us anything about the roles played by Hilary Haag and Claudia Black — their characters haven't appeared yet, but Claudia Black did get to read the Onmyou prayer that is the opening transition on this disc.
This is a reasonable introduction (five pages) to what was happening in Japan in the period 1912–1926 when Taisho was Emperor. I strongly recommend reading this, possibly even before watching the show.
An introduction (seven pages) to Onmyou mysticism, a tradition that draws from Taoism, Shintoism, and Buddhism.
These are really rather interesting drawings of all sorts of elements that appear in the show. I lost count repeatedly, so I'm going to tell you that there are about 40 pages of sketches here.
I like reading these — I learn quite a bit about why they chose to say certain things, and the special significance of certain phrasings.
The opening animation without credits — lets us see the beautiful drawing without nasty credits over it.
These are the longer form "next episode" teaser trailers, apparently done for the VHS release. There are six of them, naturally, lasting about 30 seconds each (the ones in with the episodes only last about 15 seconds).
There's a PDF file on the DVD-ROM which you can print out to make a fortune-teller themed to Kurumi. A small version of it is printed on the inside cover, and it looks rather pretty.
Six trailers, individually selectable (à la Madman Propaganda):
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 version of this disc is virtually identical, even to the same artwork and menu design. As far as I can tell there are no significant differences — they even have the same recommended price: $29.95. Oh, but the R1 price is US dollars, and the R4 is Australian (one Australian dollar is about 60c US at the moment) — that's quite a difference.
The start of an interesting new series, given a superlative transfer to DVD.
The video quality is excellent — pretty much reference quality for anime.
The audio quality is excellent.
The extras are plentiful and interesting.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Front Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5|